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ABA Magazine Ranks TV's Top Legal Shows

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ABA Magazine Ranks TV's Top Legal Shows


ABA Magazine Ranks TV's Top Legal Shows

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

The American Bar Association has tackled many tough legal questions in its long history but perhaps none as challenging as this one: What is the best legal show in television history? Here's a hint.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Ah, hold on to your shoulder pads, it's "L.A. Law." But the ABA didn't stop there. They compiled a list of the top 25 legal shows. Edward Adams, the editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, walked me through the top 10.

Mr. EDWARD ADAMS (Editor and Publisher, ABA Journal): Coming in at number two was "Perry Mason." Number three was "The Defenders." Number four, "Law & Order," the original. Number five, "The Practice." Number six, "Ally McBeal." At number seven, "Rumpole of the Bailey." Number eight was "Boston Legal." Number nine, "Damages." And number 10, "Night Court."

BRAND: You rated "L.A. Law" the best legal TV show, why?

Mr. ADAMS: We asked a jury of 12 experts - nine of them lawyers, two scholars and a TV critic, who write and think about the intersection of law and popular culture - to tell us what they thought were the 25 greatest legal TV shows, and "L.A. Law" topped the list principally because it was a show that is about lawyers themselves. It's not just a courtroom drama like so many of the shows on our list. It actually takes you inside a fictional law firm to see how lawyers practice day to day.

You know, in the first episode of the show, one of the name partners in the firm died, and one of the storylines in that first episode was who gets his office. That's quite realistic, I think, in terms of the way lawyers acted…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Not very flattering.

Mr. ADAMS: Well, you know, we all need a good office, don't we?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: But that almost reinforces the cliche of lawyers as vultures.

Mr. ADAMS: Well, I think that the show showed lawyers in all their facets, not just as vultures but also as people who were compassionate, who cared about other human beings, both defendants and victims of crime. I mean, it showed lawyers to be smart and driven and even, occasionally - dare I say it - sexy, and lawyers really reacted to that.

BRAND: So, you've got your "Law & Orders", your "Perry Masons," your "L.A. Laws," and then it gets a little thin, I have to say. Why…

Mr. ADAMS: (Unintelligible), really?

BRAND: Yeah.

Mr. ADAMS: Why do you say that?

BRAND: "Night Court."

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law."

Mr. ADAMS: Hey, "Harvey Birdman" is a terrific show. I love that show. I mean, who wouldn't? What lawyer wouldn't want to be a retired superhero who turns to the law to make ends meet?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: I'm just saying that in terms of, I don't know, serious drama, it's a little thin, not as much as, perhaps, the medical profession has.

Mr. ADAMS: Well, I think there are different kinds of stories between the medical profession and the legal shows. The legal shows are, I think, much more current in terms of the story lines that they tell.

I think one of the things that's interesting about the really popular shows on this list is you look at a "Perry Mason" where the lead character is a defense attorney. Well, that was on the air from the late '50s to the mid-'60s. So, too, was "The Defenders," the great E.G. Marshall show, which was on from '61 to '65.

Those were shows that were on the air at the height of the power of the Warren court, when America, at least its courts, were focused on the rights of defendants, and today we have "Law & Order," which focuses obviously on sort of the prosecution side of the equation.

I think that sometimes the larger culture informs which shows become popular with the public.

BRAND: Edward Adams is the editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. It's just released a list of the top 25 legal TV shows, and you can check out that list at our Web site,

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